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Natural North Dakota

Summer Stargazing

These warm summer nights are good times to get out and do some star gazing and perhaps learn some new constellations.  We are heading toward a new moon on July 8, so if the sky is clear, the viewing should be quite good for several days.   

Scorpius, the scorpion is one of the more easily identified constellations of the summer sky.  Look to the southern sky around dusk.  And as you may know, Scorpius will move slowly across the southern horizon during the evening hours until dipping out of sight in the southwest around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m.  

Scorpius can be compared to a fishhook with the eye to the upper right, and trending down to the left toward the upward facing hook.  Antares, the sixteenth brightest star in the sky is the heart of the scorpion.  Once you have found it, you can visualize the scorpion facing west.  The head lies upward and to the right of Antares and consists of three nearly vertically arranged stars.  To the lower left of Antares is the rest of the body, ending with the tail, which of course coils back on top of the body.

In Greek mythology, Orion was the great hunter, and he boasted that he could kill all the animals.  That did not go over well with Gaea, the Goddess of Earth.  To save the animals from Orion. Gaea sent a scorpion after him.  A battle commenced, and the scorpion killed Orion.  Orion and Scorpius are now placed in the heavens, but on opposite sides of the sky to prevent any rematch.  

Once you find Scorpius you will also likely find the archer, Sagittarius, which follows Scorpius across the night sky.  Sagittarius is imagined as a centaur facing westward (to the right) with his bow drawn on Scorpius.  You will notice that the arrow is pointing right at Antares, which you may recall is Scorpius’s heart.      

Make a point of doing some stargazing this summer.  The night sky is always full of wonder, and if you are after some knowledge as well, there are lots of resources available to help you with understanding and navigating the night sky, including your local library, bookstores, and of course the internet.  

-Chuck Lura

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